NPFL heads for hat-trick of ‘inconclusive’ seasons

Players of Plateau United celebrate after scoring a goal against kwara United at the New Jos stadium in Jos

The Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) will continue to be defined by the bad, the ugly and the good situations it has encountered and the subsequent methods adopted to navigate through those situations.

Just as it is popularly said “Man proposes, God disposes” and this is very apt in the case of the NPFL which has been bedevilled with man-made problems that have continued to expose the inability of Nigerian football administrators to professionally run the league after 30 years of existence.

Prior to the kickoff of the now suspended 2019/2020 season, the previous two seasons had ended abruptly, most Nigerians say inconclusively, due to crises emanating from the Nigeria Football Federation as well as delayed  kick-off, making nonsense of efforts by the LMC to ensure the NPFL starts at the same time with European leagues.

It will be recalled that the 2017/2018 season ended abruptly after an agreement was reached by the LMC and the 20 participating clubs to name Lobi Stars champions because of the crisis that engulfed the NFF immediately after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The leadership crisis that rocked the NFF had prompted the LMC to suspend the league which was due to resume on July 18 following a one-month break announced in a letter signed by the LMC’s Chief Operating Officer Salihu Abubakar to all participating clubs.

Ambassador Chris Giwa with the support of the former Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung had taken over the ‘Glass House’ as he battled to have the courts affirm his election as the NFF president instead of Amaju Pinnick.

Lobi Stars who were leading the table after 24 round of matches in June ahead of the World Cup break were announced winners at an emergency meeting in Abuja, in order to meet up with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) deadline for registration of clubs for the Champions League and Confederation Cup.

Lobi Stars were thereafter handed the title amidst protests from other clubs until it was resolved that there would be no relegations.

Similarly, the LMC adopted the abridged version for the 2018/2019 season which ended with Super Six playoff in Lagos.

Enugu Rangers finished top of Group A with 40 points from 12 games, followed by Lobi Stars with 35 points and Enyimba 22 points. In Group B, Akwa United finished top with 38 points followed by Kano Pillars and FC Ifeanyi Ubah.

However, Enyimba who didn’t win their group emerged winners of the Super six that was played in Lagos at the Agege Township stadium. Kano Pillars emerged second to pick the remaining CAF Champions League ticket.

Rangers who ended third despite topping their Group settled for the second-tier CAF club competition, the Confederation Cup.

The decision to abridge the league and also play Super Six was made by the LMC to end the top-flight early June, in line with CAF calendar and also ensure the 2019/2020 season starts at the same time with the leagues in Europe.

However, for inexplicable reasons, the season commenced several months behind the leagues in other climes. Consequently, the LMC resorted to midweek and weekend matches in order to recover lost ground.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis which is currently ravaging the entire world stopped sporting activities in Nigeria including the Nigeria Professional Football League which had reached week 25 with 13 rounds of matches left to be played.

However, Chairman of the League Management Company, LMC, Shehu Dikko who was guest on Channel Television sports programme recently spoke on the four options available to the league organizers to conclude the season.

According to him, the first option is for the league to resume normally with every club playing home and away, and finish the 13 match days remaining but he admitted it was nearly impossible because of the current ban on interstate travels.

Dikko said the second option was to move all the teams to a particular state that has three stadiums and will finish the league within eight weeks.

He, however, said that it will be a burden financially to the clubs to stay one month away from their homes as well as the fact that all the players, officials will be quarantined for 14 days and that itself would cost money.

Speaking further, he said the third option will be to end the league as it is today and then adjust the table using the Points-Per-Game, PPG system so that teams that have outstanding games will have their points adjusted which will bring all the teams at par.

The fourth option is for a playoff, to be known as ‘Super Six’ to be conducted in a single venue within 10 days where the champions will emerge as well those that will represent Nigeria in intercontinental competitions such as CAF Champions League and CAF Confederations Cup.

“If the country cannot open, and the Government will not allow any football to go ahead, then [the fourth option] would be to end the league as it is, use the points-per-game system to adjust the table and bring all the teams at par, and decide champions and teams to represent the country in the continent,” he said.

The NFF second vice president, however, said these options will have a flexible time table in place ahead of the reopening of activities in the country by the government while shutting the possibility of the lower leagues, including the Women’s topflight kicking off.

From all indications, the LMC is mulling over the possibility of going through with the staging of the Super Six to conclude the season in Benin City any time the federal government decides for sports to return.

For the 2019/2020 season which was suspended indefinitely on March 18, Plateau United, Enyimba, Rivers United, Lobi Stars, Rangers and Kano Pillars are highly favoured for selection for the playoffs based on the points-per-game calculation system.

It will be noted that the same system was adopted in France, Scotland and all other countries across the world where their leagues have either been cancelled or slated for similar play-offs.

If the Super 6 option is finally accepted, each club will play five games each and the team with the highest number of points will emerge the overall winners of the 2019/2020 season.

The champions and the runner up will represent the NPFL in the CAF Champions League next season while the third-placed team will play in the CAF Confederation Cup.

It is, however, pertinent to note that in those two seasons that the league ended oddly, Nigerian clubs performed abysmally in the continent. It is said Nigeria was not well represented at the CAF competitions because the representatives were not just good enough to challenge other continental opponents.

In the 2018/209 season, Kano Pillars who returned to play in the Champions League for the first time since 2015 were dumped out in the preliminary round by Ashante Kotoko of Ghana.

Enyimba who started their campaign in the Champions League quickly dropped to the Confederation Cup where they exited the second-tier competition at the quarter-final stage.

In the same vein, Enugu Rangers struggled to reach the group stage in the Confederation but that was the best they could do as they also exited the continent after lacklustre performances.

These were ignoble results of inconclusive seasons, yet the 2019/2020 season is heading in the same direction as the LMC ‘s body language shows the league organisers are favourably disposed to another Super 6 playoff.

With the divergent views from players, coaches and club owners concerning the fate of the suspended league, the LMC has a huge task at hand to either end the league with a play off as it was in 2018/2019 season or out rightly cancel the 2019/2020 season.

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